Fall is festival time, and not just to exalt in the harvest.
There are movies to see, music to hear, beloved artists to remember.
FirstGlance Film Festival
Indie filmmaking will be celebrated this weekend at the 16th annual FirstGlance Film Festival, Friday through Sunday at the Franklin Theater in the Franklin Institute.
The fest opens Friday with a screening of James Bird's debut feature, Eat Spirit Eat, a comedy about a group of preteen orphans who help one of their own track down the father he never met, a struggling actor. The kids end up making a film to impress the absent parent.
Local filmmakers are amply represented.
Philly multimedia artist Marie Rim will screen Boop Beep, a love story starring robots she made from cardboard boxes.
Jedi Camp, by Temple alumnus and FirstGlance founder William Ostroff, is a six-episode Web series about the world of film fanatics that tackles bullying.
Treasure - The Story of Marcus Hook by Italian filmmaker Valerio Ciriaci is a documentary about the annual Pirate Festival held in late September in Marcus Hook, Delaware County.
Once a refinery town, Marcus Hook fell on bad times when the oil business pulled out, Ciriaci explains in a phone interview. To help raise the town's spirits, ex-refinery worker Michael Manerchia created the festival. Why pirates? Locals believe they've unearthed the remains of the plankhouse where Blackbeard's mistress lived.
FirstGlance also will feature Jessica Vale's documentary, Small Small Thing, a deeply disturbing and moving portrait of Olivia Zinnah, a Liberian child who was raped at the age of 7 and died five years later as a result of the severe, and virtually untreated, internal injuries she sustained.
"I met her in 2009 when she was first brought to hospital two years after the rape," said Vale, who grew up in Forest Grove, Bucks County. Given the stigma associated with rape, Olivia's family denied she had been violated and attributed her deteriorating health to witchcraft.
To her horror, Vale learned that Olivia's "case is not isolated and that this happens a lot in Liberia." Adds the director, "Rape is the most reported crime in Liberia. And statistically most of the victims are underage."
The festival closes on a brighter note Sunday with Sloan Copeland's Wet Behind the Ears, a comedy about college grads thrown into an untenable and unforgiving job market.
- Tirdad Derakhshani
Philadelphia United Jazz Festival
For eight years, Lifeline Music Coalition produced the West Oak Lane Jazz and Arts Festival along Ogontz Avenue, until funding and politics shut the music down in 2012.
Now, cofounders Warren Oree and Graziella DiNuzzo-D'Amelio have returned with a new festival featuring two days of music at the Clef Club this weekend after a kick-off celebration Friday night at the Art Museum.
While it's a much smaller-scaled event than the four-stage, blocks-long West Oak Lane fest, the Peco-sponsored Philadelphia United Jazz Festival achieves two of Lifeline's longstanding goals - namely, focusing on jazz to the exclusion of the crowd-pleasing R&B acts that normally headlined in the Northeast, and relocating to Center City.
Aside from the absence of soul-music throwbacks like War, however, the line-up of the Philly-centric new festival will be largely familiar to longtime West Oak attendees. The headliner Saturday is the colorful, eccentric Sun Ra Arkestra, while Sunday will culminate with a performance by local tenor sax legend Odean Pope and his trio. That afternoon, Pope will also join forces with fellow saxophonists Carl Grubbs and Bobby Zankel and the rhythm section from Oree's Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble to pay tribute to John Coltrane, whose birthday would be the following day. The all-star tribute's entire set will be a single, long-form take on Coltrane's "Impressions."
"Philadelphia has a great legacy," said Pope, who was a close friend of Coltrane's during the jazz legend's early days in Philadelphia.
"The whole concept is based around paying tribute to this great man who left all this great music back here for us."
Also that afternoon, Zankel will unveil a new, smaller incarnation of his Warriors of the Wonderful Sound big band. While admitting that "Philadelphia United" isn't the most user-friendly name for a festival, it does contain an important message. "That name doesn't run smoothly off the tongue," Zankel said, "but it has a lot of implications that we have to turn into meaning. Warren has brought different aspects of the musical community together. He wanted to get away from having to water it down and really focus on what great musicians we have here and the diversity of the jazz community."
Oree hoped that using the word "United" would indicate his intention to bridge some of the intractable divides in the local jazz scene.
"The arts and culture groups in this city seem to be afraid of each other," he said. "I'm not naive enough to think that everybody's going to sit peacefully around a table, but I would like to unite the different styles and presentations of the music with the people. I'd like for people to see that they're partly responsible for the music that we make; they stimulate the compositions and even the way that we play."
Most important, the festival is a showcase for local artists and a way to bring them together with audiences in a city with a rich jazz heritage that is too often overlooked. Nearly everyone cited the Detroit Jazz Festival, which took place over Labor Day weekend despite the city's well-known financial woes.
"Detroit is bankrupt," Oree nearly shouted, "but that doesn't stop the city from hosting a jazz festival. Philadelphia gave a lot for Made in America. I'd like our city to give that same kind of attention and consideration and love to jazz music, which is so inherent here. I look at it with a military analogy: We're out on patrol now, scouting it out, but we're getting ready for the big thrust. The mission is far from over, but this is a good start."
- Shaun Brady
Jim Croce Tribute
The passing of Upper Darby singer-songwriter Jim Croce and his guitarist Maury Muehleisen in a September 1973 plane crash snuffed out the life of burgeoning mega-talents, but not Croce's legend or hit-making abilities. The gutsy, poignant working-class storyteller with the bushy mustache had just topped the pop charts with "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" when they died. Croce's demise only catapulted him into greater fame as previously released songs and posthumously discovered tunes - tender ballads and chugging rockers like "Time in a Bottle" and "I'll Have to Say I Love You in a Song" - hit the Top 10.
To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the plane crash and the 40th anniversary of his headlining slot at the Philadelphia Folk Festival, and to celebrate what would have been Croce's 70th birthday, there's a Jim Croce Weekend with informal gatherings at the Philadelphia Airport Comfort Inn on Friday and a Saturday morning "Memories" bus tour narrated by Croce's cousin Steve Angelucci, to spots like Methodist Hospital (Jim's birthplace) and his alma mater, Upper Darby High School. The weekend's main event takes place Saturday night at the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center's tribute concert featuring Maggie's Guitar, the preeminent Croce tribute band. - A.D. Amorosi